City Limits: Local Ordinances Restrict Pet Ownership

Vernie and Bea

The Noah’s Ark Ordinance – that’s what I call the local code forbidding us to adopt a third cat.

Think your landlord’s anti-pet policies were merely a memory when you became a homeowner? Think again. Simple Internet searches revealed number-of-animal limits are not uncommon across the country. The town that borders mine considers more than three cats or dogs to be a “kennel,” in violation of local statute. (Residents there can have three cats or three dogs or a combination of the two animal types, as long as the total number doesn’t exceed three.)

In my city, it’s a two-per-type limit per dwelling unit. My husband and I can have two cats, two dogs, two bunnies, two reptiles, two birds AND two hamsters, but we cannot have three or more cats in our home according to our town’s municipal code, even though we have no other pets. We can add two sweet Great Danes to our two kitties. I can birth 10 children if we’d like, creating life from scratch, but no more cats allowed here unless we want the risk of fines or even court costs.

Puzzled, I used the contact form on the town’s Web page to ask my first question: Is this ordinance still in force? Yes, but they do not actively search for violators. Most complaints come in as a result of cats running loose, which violates the leash law ordinance, so if I keep my cats indoors I would probably never hear from them.

This is no comfort to me, a person raised to worship rules by a well-intentioned mother who implied my overdue library book could bring shame to our entire family. I would worry, I responded, that some nosy person might see three kitty faces at a window and call animal control. We cannot adopt another cat until the ordinance is changed, or until we move.

Changing the ordinance is my goal, and I hope all such ordinances will be extinguished, or at least reshaped into something logical and reasonable. (If you’re interested in taking a similar path to change, you can start by checking your local limits, if any. Visit your town’s Web site or contact city hall to locate a printed copy of your ordinances.)

I am in a good position to request a review of the ordinance because we have only two cats. If our pet-family exceeded the limit, an attorney might help me decide whether to ask a friend with fewer pets to initiate the review. The city council chamber is the place where such ordinances can be amended – not the courtroom.

My husband grew up here, but neither of us remembered seeing council members’ names except on a ballot. I am asking friends if they know anyone on the council, preferably someone who likes pets. If not, since dogs or cats were not mentioned in any of the council members’ online biographies, I will check the list of board members at the local Humane Society and similar organizations.

When a town official referenced leash law complaints as a way inspectors discover number-of-animal violations, I realized ordinances already exist to tackle true problems – such as Fido infringing on the property rights of his neighbors. Hoarding is a tragedy, laced with crimes of cruelty and neglect easily addressed through existing ordinances and laws. Barking? Covered. Biting? Handled in the same set of ordinances.

Our Noah’s Ark Ordinance creates more questions than it answers. What happens if a person with two dogs marries or moves in with someone who has two dogs? Why does our town, with a beautiful dog park serving as a testament to its love for animals, allow three dogs per person in the park, but only two per home? Why is this ordinance on the books if it is not actively enforced? Does the council know how many dogs and cats were listed as euthanized by our county animal control in its 2006 annual report, along with millions of others euthanized each year in American shelters? (That number, by the way, is 647, though the report does not specify how many animals were DOA, etc.) Do vets agree with this ordinance? Does the local Humane Society?

Is this ordinance necessary?

A 2004 article in American City and County highlights and refutes some of the reasoning behind pet limits. More pets do not automatically increase trouble, nor do pet limits automatically increase the quality of care each household offers.

I thought cats were happiest living solo, and some are. However, books such as The Healing Touch for Cats by Dr. Michael W. Fox, a vet and former vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, helped me see cats as social animals who may benefit emotionally and physically from the stimulation of feline companionship.

While searching for our second cat, I met wonderful people who cared for four, six or even eight cats. Laverne is nervous by nature, so a foster-based rescue director suggested sweet and happy Beatrice, who would not intimidate her. (Both pictured above)

After a few weeks, the cats sat next to each other watching birds as I wondered if Beatrice would enjoy a more spirited kitty-buddy for some of her adventures. Laverne prefers passive activities or chasing her toys alone during our play sessions. I didn’t imagine a home with 10 cats, but I did see us with three or four, sooner or later. Then I read an ordinance which shows my preference for four cats over two dogs plus two cats could make me a disobedient citizen.

Maybe two cats are our destiny. But I hope that destiny also includes a new freedom – the freedom to choose how much furry joy we invite into our lives and into our care.

Photo: Candace Schilling

27 thoughts on “City Limits: Local Ordinances Restrict Pet Ownership

  1. Maybe you could dress you third cat up in children’s clothing?
    This is another example of “bigbrother” government.

    I just watched a report on our local morning news about a lady in the city who has had three dogs running loose for over three years they kept getting picked up and she gets them back and lets them out again and they kill cats etc…
    People like that shouldn’t have pets period yet people who would take care of their pets are punished because of irresponsible pet owners.

    Can you imagine the outrage if they started limiting children?

  2. I often wish we had lease laws and animal limitations out here in the “country”. It might prevent unwanted births, damaged property, dog packs, wildlife losses, and force irresponsible owners to take care of the animals they voluntarily take on.
    As it is, in the city things are vastly different and having lived in several I for one am glad there are restrictions on the type and amount of animals per square inch of living space.
    If you don’t like the law, try and have it changed. Start a petition amongst your fellow citizens, contact an animal loving representative and try and get them on your side.
    I agree the law in your part of the world is sort of stupid, but obviously somewhere, some one screwed things up for the rest of their fellow citizens… maybe like that nutty woman in NY who had her 60 cats removed but can keep her dogs…

  3. these ordinances are government’s idea of a response to “nuisance” animals, and as usual, they’ve made a complete pig’s breakfast of it. people who horde animals or allow their animals to roam are not deterred by these rules; they simply inconvenience the law-abiding. and where is the logic in saying that a person who lives in a studio apartment is, under this ridiculous law, allowed to have the same number of pets as a person who lives in a 10-room house? these knee-jerk ordinances are always being adopted by local governments whose collective i.q. doesn’t even hit 3 digits.

  4. Good, well-reasoned article by Candace Schilling. There are people who can’t take care of one pet, and others who could probably handle 15 or more with poise, high standards of care, and no nuisance to neighbors.
    Keep us posted. Any reason the municipality is not named? I wonder how many Itchmo readers reside in your own town and could help, if they only knew!


  5. We have 9 cats and are probably breaking some city ordinance. Our vet knows we have 9 cats but he also knows that we love them very much and take really good care of them. Any little thing thats off about one of the cats and its going to the vet or calling the vet even in the middle of the night.

    Speaking of the vet, I have to take Puck right now, shes injured her leg somehow, keep fingers crossed it isn’t anything serious!!!

  6. Apparently, pet owners are one of the few remaining groups in this country that can still be legally discriminated against. People are allowed to have as many children as they want, putting a financial stress on the community through the welfare benefits they demand (not to mention free educational services, the juvenile delinquency that these children often perpetrate, and free medical services.) Why does no law regulate this? Because these parents, irresponsible and selfish though they are, have the vote. One thing lawmakers at all levels of government, from local to federal, need to remember is that pet owners have the vote too. The only time the government should become involved in how many pets a household has is if abuse or neglect of the animals is taking place. Other than that, government is overreaching. This is unconstitutional, as it interferes with an individual’s right to the pursuit of happiness.

  7. You also have to remember that there are always a core group of animal haters! A friend of mine lives in a Condo complex in suburban Detroit. I don’t think they have an indoor limit (at least not one that they enforce), but they gave my friend a really bad time about two feral cats she was taking care of. The complex backs up to a forest preserve and people use the cats as a dumping ground.

    She had both cats neutered – and they came to her patio only to eat. Well first the board threatened to fine her on the grounds that the cats scare away the deer. She sent them a picture of one of the cats and a deer standing together in her yard.

    Then the board threated to POISON the cats. Now really, what kind of people would do that. She pointed out that they would more likely end up poisoning a wild animal – possums are protected in her area. They backed off, but some of the board members are so ‘red-neck’ (her words, not mine) that she afraid someone would shoot or trap the cats so she ended up taking the two indoors.

    The female has made a good adjustment to indoor life and lives peacefully with the other four cats. She actually the mother to one of the other cats – my friend took the litter she had prior to being spayed and found every one of them homes. The male, however, is a problem. He’s aggressive toward the other cats. So he has the lower level of the house to himself at night (its a finished basement office) and during the day he goes into a big mesh tent so the other cats can have the run of the house.

    Not perfect, but what else could she do? Mind you, one of the nastiest board members has 4 little dogs that she doesn’t clean up after. Now which is the bigger nuisance?

  8. Thought I would update since I left here to go to the vet. Puck is fine, prob just a sprain. Vet took x-rays and found she is starting to get arthritis.

    I find dogs to be more of a problem than cats. At least cats clean up after themselves by burying ^_~

  9. The city of Dm IA says only 3 dogs unless 4th dog is under 20lbs OR a Service Dog. Our 4th is under 20lbs. They do not run loose and they have homecooked meals everyday. We clean our (large fenced) yard so the droppings don’t build up and smell. NO TROUBLE.

  10. Nora gave me an idea: Your third cat can be a ‘service cat.’ And the fourth can be your husband’s ‘service cat.’ No one to know who’s really the masters and the servants are in your house!

  11. It’s a mystery why only so many dogs and so many cats – one dog can be a big nuisance if he annoys the neighbors and the owners never ever clean the yard and many dogs can be just fine with an owner who cleans and trains and washes and picks up. I don’t get it.

    A person can have 20 bunnies and 100 birds etc etc but only three cats? By the way my neighbor poisoned my cat who was abandoned at a Diary Farm being demolished to make way for new houses. He loved being outside so I brought him home. He was a good cat. Some neighbors are just nasty and these nasty people also make the rules about animals – ordinances. Ugh!

  12. So this town has a leash law. Well I agree with that but not for cats!!! I see nothing wrong with cats roaming. They do not bother anyone or anything. Now a dog roaming the neighborhood is very bothersome. They go in your yard and not their own. Some of them are rather scary so you do not know whether they will bite or not. Some are cat killers. I get angry over people letting their dog roam. We have a leash law here where I live but the people do not go by it. I have two neighbors that let out their dogs and they both want to come to my yard to do their business. It is hard mowing the lawn and stepping in it!!! I also had this stray cat I had been feeding and the other neighbors dog came over and got under my porch and scared this cat and the dog was barking and the cat hissing and this went on for hours.. I tried to get this dog out and to leave the cat alone. Finally the neighbor comes and is looking for his dog. I said well get him out of my porch. He calls, but the dog does not come. Just keeps on barking at the cat. WE finally had to remove the cement blocks to get the dog out!!
    The neighbor said something about shooting the cat! I will not say what my commit was but there was some bad words spoken! I ended up telling him to keep his dog at home that he was not allowed on my property and it was his responsiblity because of the leash law. I kept my dog at home where he belonged. I never let him out to bother any neighbors so why do I have to put up with them!

  13. I am a dog lover and since I have a neighbor that doesn’t like cats, I don’t have a cat now, but I love cats too.

    But, I keep my dogs on leashes and do not let them poop in my neighbors yards but if something does happen, by accident, I am so quick to clean it up.

    Well, this woman who lived several blocks away would walk her dog past my garage where I keep one dog (in the backyard and in the garage – has free access) and my dog would bark at this woman and her dog through a small opening under the garage door. This inconsiderate woman would let her dog poop on my yard and then she’d carry this stranger poop up and put it in my trash can next to the garage door and she started training her dog obedience right at the end of my driveway every day that drove my dog nuts, by the way. It was awful. I planted cactus around my yard to keep her away and put my dog in the far back patio so she would stop taining her dog near my driveway. The bottom line – people are inconsiderate.

  14. welcome to the world of state sponsored control of pets.

    We pit bull people have always said our breed was just a stalking horse to enable more breed-based regulations, more care/feeding regulations, more insurance more health regulations (mandatory s/n anyone?) and so forth.

    but personally, I DO believe that cats shouldn’t have trespass rights that people don’t have. Indoors is the place for them to be!

  15. Pet limit ordinances have been successfully challenged in a couple cases and were, in both cases, found by a higher court to be unconstitutional.

    Here in San Jose, CA prior to 2005 it was “illegal” to have more than two adult dogs in a single dwelling. The current ordinance allows a total of 5 cats/dogs, with no more than 3 allowed of any one species). And while the pet limit ordinance is not “actively” enforced, AC will act on specific complaints by citizens. I recently heard of one devastating case of a woman whose animal-hating neighbor complained about her four dogs. AC arrived at her home and told her she had 24 hours to get rid of one of the dogs or else be in violation of the ordinance. The poor woman was forced to put to sleep her oldest dog in order to comply, as she could find no one in such a short time frame who would take one of her dogs for her. I wish she’d had the resources to fight the ordinance and take San Jose to court. I’ve myself written to some legal resources who claim to advocate on behalf of animals, asking for help in getting this ordinance changed or in filing a lawsuit against the city. Not surprisingly, none of the orgs I contacted for help have ever responded…not even so much as a form letter or auto-reply email.

  16. Nikki – oh that is so sad. I have a peeping tom neighbor that for many reasons drives me up a wall. I do my best to keep my dogs quiet so as not to force any problem.

    Usually, a person can go to court and get an extension of time – and then again she doesn’t have to let animal control in her house. There were things she could have done but she just “gave” in – sad.

  17. completely ridiculous- another way for people to just outright control others- whether it’s a local ordinance or a condo rule. people love to have power over other people.

    it’s very simple- have a leash law, take away animals from those who are abusing or hoarding them. take away dogs from people who let them roam destructively free. but no- that would be logical and doesn’t give you enough control over other people. we need more enforcement of concise, effective, need based laws not more invasive laws clearly biased against responsible pet ownership.

    i ended up with 6 cats and none of it was of my own doing. i had one little cat-but successive waves of roommates moved out and left their cats. 2 i rescued from a cardboard box on the street and one i took in because a friend bought a condo and found out after they wouldn’t allow her indoor cat. i couldn’t bear to turn them away. i would in fact never have dreamed of it even though i had never considered having a cat herd.

    people who have more than 3 cats or dogs are generally good people with big hearts- are we going to punish them for saving animals and providing them with safe homes? there are less restrictive laws on child rapers. convicted murderers are actually let out on work release in our communities. it is criminalizing the best aspect of any society- charity toward the less fortunate. we’d be better served if we more pointedly punished evil doers-real criminals, enforced simple rules encouraging to good humane SANE pet ownership and made government mind it’s own damn business unless real destructiveness or cruelty is involved.

    another example of the tyranny of the ‘moral’ minority- those who feel the need to inflict their views and preferences on others even within the alleged sanctity of one’s own home. it’s all about control.

    if we had such an ordinance here, i’d give up my” extra” cats the day government forces those wise ass crack babies( on these really small bikes no less. these kids arent out of their teens) peddling drugs and pimping women from living in my neighborhood . no more than one gang banging lowlife scumbag per block please… or the extras will have to be put down. and neuter or spay don’t delay! they definitely should be tagged too and actually once arresting them might help ,Officer Friendly. my over indulged prissy himalayan, yawning on a pillow in the window, believe it or not, is not the one selling crack to the kids at the middle school nor does she drive down the street spraying bullets into gangs of rival persians.( although i am not entirely sure she hasn’t at least considered the latter.)

    but it’s so like government, when faced with real crime it hasn’t a clue nor the will to control ,to turn its attention to those who are committing no crime and are law abiding- just because they are law abiding. they will comply or worry about being found out because they are respectful citizens. there’s much less physical and political danger pushing around crazy cat ladies and lap dog petters then going after people with guns who actually hurt others and don’t care about any laws whatsoever.

    we have to make them fear for their political future if they continue to pass draconian laws addressing no actual crime. fear the crazy cat ladies and pit bull lovers.. fear them or no re-election, no political contributions, no peace.

  18. Oh so true. In Queens, New York, I believe that there is no limit on the number of pets one can have – all a person needs to do is make sure the place is clean and the animals cared for and exercised. Sounds good to me!

    But, and I don’t understand it, people who like to enforce rules will take animals away, even though they are properly cared for, only to euthanize them for the sake of everyone following the rules.

    Yet, when I have a video of an armed man with what looks like a 45 in the back of his baggy jeans (can see it when he bends down to pick up his tools) wanna be burglar who was at my door (my dogs barking deterred him) and want the Sheriff to see it – identify this 19 year old looking thug who is canvassing my neighborhood with his breaking and entering tool bag – the dispatch officer says to me “Well, he’s gone now and didn’t break in so what is YOUR problem?”

    Go figure!

  19. I think it is best to avoid problems and just obey the ordinances and if one has a situation like the lady above with the elderly dog, then one should fight it or appeal or move if possible. I can’t imagine living where owning animals are not encouraged.

  20. Sara,

    From what I gathered, this was a rather meek elderly woman who, like so many citizens, are easily intimidated by figures of authority. I think she was probably overcome by the situation and didn’t know she had any recourse but to abide by the dictates of the animal control officer. I fault the A.C. officer and the the A.C. authority and not the woman. They should have been flexible enough to work with her; extend her more time; show her some compassion. They didn’t.

  21. That poor woman. My heart goes out to her. A small amount of authority in a small-minded person’s hands can create some giant sized turds.

  22. I live in a condo that has a 2-pet limit. It’s extremely, extremely hard to find a condo or apartment that will even allow 2 … I live in fear that someone will notice the extra faces peering out the window. I can understand limiting dogs in a community–between the barking and the owners that fail to pick up after their dogs, one could make an argument for limits–but I’ve never figured out why anyone would feel it necessary to limit indoor cats to 1-2.

  23. Sarah: I think my condo has a 2 cat limit. They do not allow dogs. However, there are any number of people (including board members) who have more than 2, but I’m not aware of anyone with more than 4. Somewhere be 1-100 there’s a natural limit of how many cats can live comfortably in a given space. But I don’t want to be the one deciding that.

    I think as long as the cats don’t create a problem for the neighbors, every one lets it alone. After all we don’t limit children, and the cats have yet to vandalize the elevators, or leave trash in the lobby.

    Funny thing, one of the board members was having problem with smoke infiltration from another apartment and announced that the board was going to pass a rule saying that if someone’s smoking bothered a neighbor, it could be prohibited. Now you just know that this is a neighbor to neighbor dispute that’s gotten way out of hand.

    At the meeting they held to discuss this issue the turn out was mostly nonsmokers and a fair number of cat owners. Nonsmokers on the grounds that what you do in your apartment is your business unless specifically prohibited in the condo bylaws (takes a 66% approval rate). The cat owners were concerned that if someone was allergic to a cat, the same type of rule could be forced on them by the board. My favorite was a little old lady who stood up and said “you’ll have to pry my cats out of my cold, dead arms.”

    Needless to say, the board had to back down. But I do think they were genuinely astonished by the pet owners. We such a militant bunch, LOL.

  24. STOPPIT!!! There has to be some sanity. I thank the city for their ordinance. I currently have a neighbor who has no less than 20 cats. Yes, 20.
    He feeds them and that is where the care ends. These animals constantly dig and defecate on my property. They have breeched my crawlspace, they are
    in no uncertain terms FERAL ANIMALS.

    There are places on my lawn that no longer grow due to the feline urine. There are cat deposits everywhere.

    The Humane Society and the ASPCA say their hands are tied. All they can do is cite the guy and let him go on his merry way. If this site allows, I will
    add some pictures so you bleeding hearts can see the eye diseases, mange, battle scars, etc that these animals suffer on a daily basis.

    Yes, they are cute and cuddly – but this is CRUELTY TO ANIMALS

    No proper care is given.

  25. To Charles Magruder. I’m sorry about your experience with outside cats. Some people get pets and believe they should live outside. For each uncaring owner who does that I assure you there are a dozen of us who wouldn’t think of allowing our pets out to fend for themselves on the streets. We live in a pet limit city where we can only have 2 cats or dogs. We also have a large college population and with the foreclosure rate the stray/abandon situation is unbelievable. This year we have had 5 cats living under our porch. We’ve managed to trap all but one and get them to no kill shelters but the shelters are overloaded and desperate for foster homes. It breaks your heart when you can’t take in a few more cats as fosters until homes can be found but if we were to do that and get reported we’d have less than a week to reduce our pet number to 2, Even feeding the ‘throw-aways’ outside is risky because if they’re in your yard they can cite you too. I don’t know if your keighbor is feeding strays or all those cats are cats he went out and brought home so I can’t judge him. If they are strays maybe you and your neighbors need to get in touch with one of the many organizations that deal with ‘wild’ cats I recomend Alley Cat Allies for more info

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